KANSAS CITY -- Quarterback Peyton Manning's favorite tight end was on the sideline in street clothes. His favorite receiver was on the field, but he played most of the game with a shoulder injury that made him a one-armed pass catcher.
Manning did not blink -- he seldom does. Manning found other receivers in Denver's deep offensive talent pool and threw for 403 yards with five touchdown passes as the Denver Broncos established control of the AFC West by beating the Kansas City Chiefs 35-28 at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
With four games left in the regular-season schedule, the Broncos are 10-2 and hold a one-game lead over the 9-3 Chiefs, a team that Denver has beaten twice in the last three weeks.
"It's a big win because it was a division game," Manning said. "We played them two weeks ago in a tough game and we knew coming here it would be tough as well."
Coming into the game the Denver offense was without pass catching tight end Julius Thomas, who missed his second straight game with a knee injury. In the first quarter, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas injured a shoulder and was limited in what he could do in the Broncos' offense.
After throwing a pair of interceptions in his first nine pass attempts that created a 14-point deficit for the Broncos, Manning bounced back quickly, making up for those giveaways and the key was wide receiver Eric Decker, who caught eight passes for 174 yards and four of those receptions went for touchdowns of 41, 37, 15 and 1 yards.
"It just goes to show you that Peyton is going to find you if you get open," said interim head coach Jack Del Rio. "Clearly Eric had a great day with four touchdowns. We needed all of them. It was just a great team win that we had to have."
Even with one good arm, Thomas ended up catching three passes for 106 yards, including a 77-yard catch. The other touchdown throw was for 3 yards by running back Knowshon Moreno.
"I knew (Thomas) wasn't 100 percent and they doubled (Wes) Welker and in that scenario is going to draw single coverage," Manning said. "He played well. He ran good routes and we were able to get down the field. Eric was awesome."
The Chiefs' defense started strong, but was picked apart over the game's final three quarters by Manning, who completed 63 percent of his passes for an average of 11.5 yards per attempt. Manning was not sacked, although Kansas City got more pressure on him than they did two weeks ago.
"He's just amazing, the best," Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry said of Manning. "He always knows where to throw it and when to throw it."
Kansas City's offense struggled in the second half, scoring only a late touchdown and producing minimal yardage as quarterback Alex Smith was under constant pressure from the Denver pass rush.
"There was a lack of execution and we kind of got into some third downs that were tough," said Smith, who threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns. "We fell behind and that changed the game."
The Chiefs started strong and held a 21-14 lead at halftime thanks to contributions from their offense, defense and special teams. Manning and Smith traded interceptions in the first quarter. Smith's turnover was especially painful as Denver linebacker Wesley Woodyard caught the ball in the end zone. Manning's errant pass was grabbed by Chiefs safety Quintin Demps and helped set up the first score of the game, a 17-yard touchdown pass from Smith to wide receiver Junior Hemingway. Kansas City held an early 7-0 lead.
Manning came back and threw the first of those four touchdown passes to Decker, this one on a 41-yard play and Denver tied it at 7-7.
That tie did not last long. On the ensuing kickoff, Chiefs returner Knile Davis caught Matt Prater's kick eight yards deep in the end zone. Davis ran up the middle, cut to his right, broke a pair of tackles and went 108 yards for a touchdown in the longest play in franchise's 54 seasons.
Kansas City's defense came back on Denver's next possession and cornerback Marcus Cooper picked off a Manning pass intended for Decker, returning it for 20 yards to the Broncos' 22-yard line. Five plays later, Smith hit tight end Alex Fasano for a 12-yard touchdown pass and a 21-7 lead.
Late in the half, Manning led the Broncos on a 70-yard, nine-play drive that finished up with a 3-yard touchdown pass to running back Knowshon Moreno and the score was 21-14 at the intermission.
In the second half, Denver scored on its first three possessions, with Manning throwing three touchdown passes to Decker. Those scores finished drives that traveled 80, 92 and 95 yards and gave the Broncos a 35-21 advantage in the early moments of the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs cut that lead by a touchdown, when they moved 80 yards on 17 plays with running back Jamaal Charles scoring from the 1-yard line to make it 35-28. Kansas City drove down for a possible tying touchdown but a fourth-down throw by Smith to wide receiver Dwayne Bowe was knocked down in the end zone by Denver safety Mike Adams.
NOTES: The Broncos awarded the game ball to interim head coach Del Rio, who will go back to his defensive coordinator duties on Monday with the return of John Fox. ... The 108-yard kickoff return touchdown by Knile Davis eclipsed the previous Chiefs' record-long play, a 106-yard kickoff return by Noland Smith against the Broncos on Dec. 17, 1967. ... The Broncos began the game without three defensive starters (DE Derek Wolfe, DT Kevin Vickerson and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) and starting TE Julius Thomas due to injuries and illness. ... The Chiefs were without starting left OL Justin Houston, sidelined with a dislocated right elbow. ... In the fourth quarter, the Chiefs lost TE Alex Fasano (concussion) and LT Branden Albert (knee injury).